Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hormones, Pimples and Crushes or: The 6th Grade

On Friday, I taught my first schoolday in seven months. (Well, I have done some teaching in my sister Ms. Swamp's classroom, but this was the first full day and, more importantly, the first PAID day.) It's a month-long gig I got substitute teaching in a 6th grade classroom at a private school while their teacher recovers from shoulder surgery, and... well, I'll just say I smell a lot of blog posts coming out of the experience.

The class has a grand total of 4 pupils. This is 1/6th the size of my class in Brooklyn, and it is hard to really think of them as a “class.” It feels more like babysitting, especially given some of what goes on there.

For instance, each day a different child has the privilege of being the “class DJ.” They choose the music to play, and I'm not only talking about lunchtime or other downtime throughout the day. They play music ALL DAY LONG: during math, science, writing... you get the picture. The way that they play music is that they go on YouTube and play videos there. This leads to two issues (on top of the blasting music, which is in itself a big issue in my mind): first, that means that about every 3 ½ minutes the “DJ” is getting up to put on a new video. Second, there is a music video playing constantly on the screen, which is a huge visual distraction in addition to all the audio distractions going on.

Suffice it to say that this is not something that is going to continue under my watch.

Their teacher has been teaching for a long time, and I suspect he may be burnt out. I also don't think he particularly likes this group of kids, and I can empathize with that; it happens to everyone sometimes. It must be frustrating to teach a group so small it doesn't really feel like teaching. I know it sounds great to have a small class, and last year a class of four was beyond my wildest dreams. But it would actually be better to have a few more, maybe 10 or 12, in order to actually be able to have discussions and feel more serious.

Still, I think the situation is a bit shocking and ultimately inexcusable. Mr. Burnout, their teacher, has always taught a year-long social studies unit on the labor movement and a science unit on electricity in the 6th grade. This year, he abandoned both topics a couple of weeks before I arrived. “They just weren't into it,” he explained. Instead, the kids chose topics to research independently. Two students are studying someone named Justin Bieber, who I had never heard of before but suspect I will be hearing a lot about in the next few weeks. He is 14, and became famous after a couple of videos he posted of himself singing on YouTube went viral. He recently released his first CD.

I'm still figuring out how I'm going to handle all of this, and I also need to do some more thinking about how I will deal with some of the complex gender issues going on (there's only one boy in the class, and the other 75% of the class pick on him mercilessly). It's not all going to be fun; teaching never is. But despite all the drawbacks it sure feels good to be back in the classroom.

Justin. Need I say more?

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